NFU 2010: EA chief backs GMs in climate battle

UK farmers should be given more opportunity to explore the opportunities offered by GM crops to cope with climate change, Environment Agency chief Chris Smith has told the NFU conference today (Wednesday 24 February).

Agency chairman Lord Smith said that GM crops could offer farmers solutions to some of the challenges created by changing climates.

“My own personal view is that we probably need to be readier to explore GM options, coupled of course with proper environmental safeguards, in adapting to the changes that the climate will bring,” he told delegates.

“The range of fodder crops, such as maize, will move northwards and longer grazing seasons are likely.

“New tools and technologies are becoming available, nano-technology for example, as well as the use of satellites, IT and other tools to support precision farming.

“We need to understand the environmental implications of novel approaches to embrace them and be clear how they will help us achieve long-term goals.”

Lord Smith said science needed to be at the forefront of development and innovation and farmers needed to be given the knowledge to adapt and innovate.

“Innovation has already seen British agriculture adapt to the economic challenges it has faced over the last 15 years or so and I know it will do so into the future,” he said.

Lord Smith said farmers also needed to find ways to become more water-efficient if they were going to cope with changes in climate.

With demand for irrigation water predicted to rise by a quarter over the next decade and declining rainfall expected in parts of central, southern and eastern England and eastern parts of Wales, farmers needed to think of ways to gather water.

“We will need to get better at storing water in winter to use in the summer,” he said.

“I am pleased to say that we have already been able to work with some groups of farmers to help them form co-operative Abstractor Groups and to support the use of Regional Development Agency funding to provide more water storage for irrigation.

“Where it is the most effective way, we will always try to work with the farming community to identify solutions through advice and voluntary means.”

Keep up to date with all the latest news from NFU Conference on our special report page.

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